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Johnson outpacing McKenna in school board race for money

Vanessa Romo | July 15, 2014

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Alex Johnson and George McKenna LAUSD

Alex Johnson (left), George McKenna (right)

Alex Johnson has opened a substantial lead over George McKenna in campaign support from individual donors and groups that support his candidacy even as major backers from the education reform camp and labor unions who have given millions in previous years appear to be sitting this election out. 

The two candidates are facing each other in an Aug. 12 runoff to fill LA Unified’s open District 1 board seat.

Despite finishing a distant second in the June 3 primary (winning 24 percent of the vote to McKenna’s 44 percent), Johnson has raised almost eight times what McKenna has in individual donations, nearly $48,000, to just under $6,500 for McKenna. Half of Johnson’s contributions are for the maximum $1,100.

Meanwhile, figures this morning from the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission show that Super PACs have spent more than $140,000 on behalf of Johnson — over $110,000 more than groups supporting McKenna. Super PACs are independent expenditure committees that must operate separately from a candidate’s campaign.

The Commission reports that the lion’s share of the money spent on behalf of Johnson — about $114,000 — comes from one organization, the African American Voter Registration, Education & Participation Project (AAVREP), a group founded in 2002 by LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Johnson works for him as an education advisor.

The Project says it’s the largest organized effort targeting African American and urban voters in California, registering more than 175,000 voters over the last 20 years. Its goal is to increase political participation among African American and urban voters.

“Money that is raised will go toward educating voters about me, about the selection, and about why I am the best choice to assume the seat on August 12,” Johnson said of his individual donations. “We are putting money into making sure that our mail program and our field program is top-notch, and it’s doing all that we need it to do to get out the vote.”

Another local group, Los Angeles Parents, Teachers, and Students for Great Public Schools, which has received major funding from the California Charter Schools Association Advocates Independent Expenditure Committee, has shelled out more than $24,000 to support Johnson’s campaign, paying for phone banks, fliers and mailers.

The only group contributing independent funds to McKenna’s campaign is the teachers union PAC, UTLA-PACE, which has spent $30,000 on a combination of radio ads, phone banking and a single flier mailing in the last week. 

With such a large lead in money, Johnson remains confident he can close the gap on McKenna.

“I would say that no one has a lead. This is a new election with only two candidates,” he told LA School Report. “We’ve narrowed significantly McKenna’s lead in terms of name identification. It’s almost parity.”

Marco Flores, head of the UTLA political action committee, says the big players, such as the California Teachers Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and even reform supports like Eli Broad and Michael Bloomberg, are intentionally sitting out the special election.

In an April interview with LA School Report, Flores said the timing of the runoff is too close to the regular school board elections in 2015, when four seats will be up for grabs, including District 1 again. And campaigning for those races, he said, will begin on Labor Day — just weeks after the new District 1 member takes a seat on the board.

The question before UTLA and PACE, he said, is: “How much are we going to ask for, from our friends, from our affiliates, from the different groups that we get money from, for this particular race when nine months from now we’re going to be having another four races?”

Next year’s elections will be for board districts 1, 3, 5, and 7.

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